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Success in an introductory college computer science (CS) course encourages students to major and pursue careers in computer science and many other STEM fields, whereas weak performance is often a powerful deterrent. This article examines the role of high school course taking (AP, regular, or none) in mathematics and in CS as predictors of later success in college introductory computer science courses, measured by students’ final grades. Using a sample of 9,418 students from a stratified random sample of 118 U.S. colleges and universities, we found that the observed advantage of taking AP calculus over taking AP CS, seen in an uncontrolled model, was largely confounded by students’ background characteristics. After applying multinomial propensity score weighting, we estimated that the effects of taking AP calculus and AP CS on college CS grades were similar. Interestingly, enrollment in both AP calculus and AP CS did not have any additional positive effect, suggesting that both AP calculus and AP CS strengthened similar skills that are important for long-term CS achievement. Taking regular CS did not have a significant effect; taking regular calculus had a positive effect, about half the size of taking AP calculus or AP CS. Thus, the study showed that simply exposing students to any kind of CS course before college does not appear to be sufficient for improving college CS performance; and that advanced CS and advanced calculus in high school may substitute for each other in the preparation of college CS.
ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE) – Association for Computing Machinery
Published: Dec 31, 2020
Keywords: Computer science education
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